Posts by: Matin Durrani

How to inspire scientists in developing nations

 

By Matin Durrani

I’ve now returned to the UK from my visit to the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, which has been celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding. As part of those celebrations, the ICTP has created a special half-hour video documentary (above), which shows how scientists in various parts of the globe have not only furthered their own careers through visits to the ICTP, but have also used that experience to improve science back in their home countries

The video, which I watched in Trieste, features scientists from everywhere from Nepal to Cuba, from Ethiopa to Peru, and from Cameroon to China – and, of course, Pakistan itself where the ICTP’s founder Abdus Salam was from. Entitled From Theory to Reality: ICTP at 50, it was made by Italian film-maker Nicole Leghissa, who spent two months travelling around the world to the locations seen in the film.

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Who was the real Abdus Salam?

Photo of members of Abdus Salam's family at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste

Honouring his achievements – members of Abdus Salam’s family at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste.

Matin Durrani in Trieste, Italy

It’s now my third day here at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in grand style. Two days ago we had a marvellous seven-course dinner at Duino Castle, including a hugely spectacular fruit-laden golden-jubilee cake, while yesterday there was a possibly even more sumptuous eight-course dinner hosted by the city that has been home to the centre for half a century.

But pervading all the events has been Abdus Salam, the Pakistani Nobel-prize-winning theoretical physicist who set up the centre in 1964. We know pretty much what Salam did from a scientific point of view, which was celebrated in his 1979 Nobel prize for unifying the weak and electromagnetic forces, but what exactly was he like as a person?

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Abdus Salam’s legacy celebrated

Photo of opening session at ICTP 50th-anniversary meeting

Celebrating Salam – Rolf-Dieter Heuer addresses guests at the opening session of the ICTP’s 50th-anniversary conference.

By Matin Durrani in Trieste, Italy

It was a small touch, but certainly quite surprising.

To kick off the opening session of the 50th-anniversary meeting of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), no-one spoke. Instead, the lights were dimmed until the audience was sitting in total darkness. Then emerged the voice of the ICTP’s founding father – the Pakistani theorist Abdus Salam, who died in 1996 – as a film started rolling on the screen at the front of the lecture hall. This was followed by a series of short video messages from selected physicists from around the world who benefited from the support of the ICTP early in their careers. As one physicist put it, the ICTP was “the launching pad” for their career. “It is a rare opportunity that so many people dream about,” added another.

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All eyes on the ICTP as it turns 50

View from the guest house at the International Centre for Theoretical  Physics in Trieste, Italy

Golden days: the view from the guesthouse at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics as delegates arrive for a conference to mark its first 50 years.

By Matin Durrani in Trieste, Italy

When the Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam founded the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) here in Trieste in 1964, I am sure he would have never quite dared to believe that it would go on to be such a success in helping to further the careers of some of the brightest minds from the developing world. Salam’s dream was for the ICTP to be a focal point for talented theorists from countries seeking to build up their research strengths, bringing such people into contact with leading physicists from front-ranking nations to carry out top-quality collaborative projects.

Now, 50 years after it began, the ICTP is hosting a golden-jubilee conference, where it is quite rightly celebrating all that it has achieved – and looking ahead to the future too.

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The October 2014 issue of Physics World is now out

By Matin Durrani

There’s some great material in the October issue of Physics World, which is out now in print and digital formats. Highlights include a look at Europe’s Rosetta mission, which is set to land a probe on a comet for the very first time, an analysis of whether pulsars could be used to detect gravitational waves, and a great feature by University of Maryland physicist James Gates, who insists that although CERN’s Large Hadron Collider has so far seen no signs of supersymmetry, the search for SUSY must go on.

Another great article in the issue is by my colleague Margaret Harris, who is Physics World‘s careers editor. She’s written an in-depth study of what we’re dubbing the “STEM shortage paradox”. This is the curious fact that many employers in the UK say they are struggling to find enough good people with science, engineering, technology and maths (STEM) backgrounds, whereas at the same time lots of physics graduates are finding it hard to get jobs. So is there a really a “STEM shortage”, or do STEM graduates have the wrong skills, aren’t good enough or want to work in other fields? In the video above, Margaret outlines her motivations for writing the article.

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Relive CERN’s highlights as the lab turns 60

By Matin Durrani

CERN has been celebrating its 60th anniversary all this month, but it was in fact six decades ago today – on Wednesday 29 September 1954 – that the lab’s convention was ratified by its first 12 member states: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and Yugoslavia.

Physics World has played its own small part in marking the anniversary, including a careers feature on what skills you need as CERN director-general, a day-in-the-life blog written by current CERN boss Rolf-Dieter Heuer, and an appearance at the lab’s TEDx event last week by our columnist Robert P Crease.

This blog entry rounds off our coverage of CERN at 60 with a few links to classic material from our archives.

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Scotland’s future

Castle Stalker

Scotland: staying in the UK following the referendum. (CC BY-SA 2.0/Jack Torcello)

By Matin Durrani

In the end, it was perhaps not too unexpected when Scotland voted against independence in yesterday’s referendum. Almost all of the polls in the run-up to the vote had signalled a win for the “no” camp – and so it turned out, with 55% of voters wanting Scotland to remain tied to England, Wales and Northern Ireland as part of the UK. But it was a relatively close-run affair and many will be relieved that the two sides have avoided having tospend the next few years arguing, like a divorcing couple, over how to divide their spoils.

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How to make the perfect hollandaise sauce

Hollandaise sauce

A scientific approach to making sauces. (Courtesy: iStockphoto/mikafotostok )

By Matin Durrani

I got an e-mail the other day from a London PR agency telling me about the latest edition of a new journal that’s tapping into the burgeoning interest in using scientific methods to improve and understand the foods we eat. Published by Elsevier, the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science seeks to bring chefs and scientists together “by conceiving culinary projects that nurture the relationship between cooking, science and research”.

Intrigued, I had a quick skim of the contents and my eyes were immediately drawn to an article by researchers in Norway, Denmark and Germany, who had examined the factors that affect the quality of a hollandaise sauce – and worked out the best way to make one.

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Pointless or profound?

By Matin Durrani

Cover of Physics World September 2014 issueThe cover feature of the September 2014 issue of Physics World, which is out now in print and digital formats, concerns “sterile neutrinos” – a hypothesized fourth kind of neutrino in addition to the familiar electron, muon and tau neutrinos. Sterile neutrinos are controversial – they have never been detected and we are not even sure if they exist at all. But if they do, sterile neutrinos could potentially solve a raft of unsolved problems in physics, including why neutrinos themselves have mass, what makes up dark matter and why there is so much more matter than antimater in the universe.

In the article, you can find out more about the mysteries these hypothetical particles could solve. But since they might not exist, why – you may wonder – would anyone bother looking for them? In other words, is the search for sterile neutrinos pointless or profound? Check out the September issue to find out more.

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Physics World 2014 Focus on Vacuum Technology is out now

By Matin Durrani

Vacuum technology is big business these days, with companies in the sector producing advanced scientific equipment that is vital not only for academic research, but also for manufacturers in other industrial sectors.
Physics World 2014 Focus on vacuum technology
In fact, one giant of the vacuum industry – Swedish firm Atlas Copco – bought its UK rival Edwards Vacuum for an eye-watering $1.5bn last year.

If you want to find out more about why Atlas Copco forked out so much cash, don’t miss the latest Physics World focus issue on vacuum technology, which includes an interview with Geert Follens, president of Atlas Copco’s newly created vacuum-solutions division. In the interview, Follens discusses the takeover in more detail and explains why he expects further strong growth in the vacuum market.

Elsewhere in the issue, you can read about a European Union project uniting academia and industry to improve vacuum metrology for production environments. Such efforts are vital even in the drinks industry, where the Van Pur brewery in Poland, for example, uses equipment from KHS Plasmax to coat the inside of bottles with an ultrathin layer of glass using plasma impulse chemical vapour deposition under vacuum.

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